We Love Music: The Zombies @ The Howard Theatre — 8/9/12 (or “The Zombies, Yes; Apocalypse, No”)

Photo courtesy of Marga M.
Rod Argent
courtesy of Marga M.

When your admirers include Paul Weller, Dave Grohl and The Vaccines, you probably are doing something right.

And so The Zombies unquestionably got something right, capturing lightning in a bottle in their timeless classic “Time of the Season,” off their most famous album, Odessey and Oracle, in 1968 right as they disbanded. The album endured, however, and the band eventually returned to stay with the new century in a lineup that is touring on a new album with a stop at The Howard Theater in DC last Thursday.

The new lineup consists of the core hitmakers Rod Argent on keyboards and Colin Blunstone on lead vocals. The duo were augmented by capable veteran musicians Jim Rodford on bass (well known for his work with The Kinks), his son Steve Rodford on drums, and Tom Toomey on guitar.

In concert, The Zombies of course jammed through a powered up version of their best-known hit “Time of the Season,” which spotlighted Argent’s talent on the keyboards as he took them on a symphonic roller coaster ride in the middle of the song. The band later closed with their other best-known song, “She’s Not There,” a quickly paced rocker’s lament of misplaced love.

While the hits by The Zombies are impressive enough, their show quickly becomes something else altogether with the realization as to how deep their individual musical resumes truly are. In addition to closing with “She’s Not There,” the band also closed with a howling performance of “Hold Your Head Up,” the best known song from the self-named group Argent formed in the wake of The Zombies’ dissolution in the 1960s. Blunstone stayed busy in the following decades as well, releasing solo albums and contributing to other efforts. He delivered impressive renditions of two such songs to which he contributed his mighty voice — Dave Stewart’s arrangement of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” a top 20 hit in the United Kingdom in 1981, and one of the songs he sang for the Alan Parsons Project, “Old and Wise,” from the 1982 album Eye in the Sky.

Best known for orchestral arrangements of their classic rock songs, The Zombies played stripped down versions of their own classics, pleasing the audience of roughly 250 or more who came out to see them for a seated show at The Howard. The audience was positively pleased for folks who looked like they had been waiting for the opportunity to see the veteran rockers for some time. They were pleased enough to deliver a standing ovation after “Hold Your Head Up” in particular.

The Zombies released a new album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, in 2011, and they expressed a great deal of pride in the new material, playing four or five songs from it. The album sat very well alongside the classic material, and the beautifully acoustic strummer “A Moment in Time” showcased the quiet strengths of new guitarist Toomey.

All in all, The Zombies displayed the sort of natural skill that only comes with time and talent. Watching their show, it became clear why they still are thought of as standard-bearers for the baroque pop sound even if they were missing some traditional orchestral instruments — or the storied mellotron, the use of which pointed the way to the sounds of many progressive rock bands like Argent and the Alan Parsons Project and their peers.

I originally wanted to say a few nice things about The Left Banke, but as readers below noted, I clearly didn’t know enough about the band members. Their return was promising.

The Zombies are off to the United Kingdom in September, so no obvious opportunities to catch the band present themselves any time soon. However, it’s well worth catching them to enjoy their absolute professionalism or to savor a big chunk of rock history in one sitting. I’m certain you’ll leave full.

Mickey reviews music shows. For recent reviews, visit Parklife DC.


7 thoughts on “We Love Music: The Zombies @ The Howard Theatre — 8/9/12 (or “The Zombies, Yes; Apocalypse, No”)

  1. Hey, you should correct your article to say that it was Mike Fornatale on vocals, not original Left Banke member Steve Martin-Caro who is not part of the new line-up. Perhaps because Mike does such a great job, you thought he had to be the original lead singer? Also you make it sound like George Cameron was playing the drums. Even though he was the Left Banke’s original drummer, drums are now handled by Rick Reil. I think you were too busy raving about the Zombies to notice what a wonderful concert the Left Banke put on. It was pure magic. And that is why I love music.

  2. Thanks for the corrections concerning The Left Banke, friends. I apologize for my poor research on the band, but I was compelled to say something. I’ll do better next time.

  3. Oh my god. Really? A couple of people VERY GENTLY take you to task for the [rather large] journalistic breach of mis-identifying some of the people on stage…so you fix it, and write a nice apology…and then you change your mind and just REMOVE all references to the Left Banke? That’s really very petty and rather disappointing.

  4. Mickey, why did you delete your Left Banke review? Your factual errors could’ve been easily corrected, but instead you deleted everything. What a bummer. Now I feel compelled to write a review for readers who were looking for a more information about the Left Banke’s show other than “their return was promising”.

    The newly reformed Left Banke consists of a marvelous mix of original members Tom Finn and George Cameron, and Charly Cazalet (who played on the Left Banke’s third album “Strangers on A Train”), along with new members Mike Fornatale (lead vocal and guitar), Paul Alves (guitar), Rick Reil (drums), Mickey Finn (keyboards), Jon Spurney (keyboards) and, in this show, a 3-piece string section with Lynn Bechtold (violin), Susan Aquila (violin) and Joanne Choi (cello).

    Their 45-minute set featured 14 songs, mostly from the first two albums, with a few later tracks sprinkled in. The music ranged from the sublime (Pretty Ballerina, Walk Away Renee), pop masterpieces (She May Call You Up Tonight, Something On My Mind), dramatic (Desiree, Dark is the Bark), to good old-fashioned loud rock & roll (Lazy Day, I Haven’t Got the Nerve).

    If you wondered how true to the original sound the new Left Banke is, the string arrangements were lovingly recreated and handwritten by Mike Fornatale, the rock drums and guitars of Rick Reil and Paul Alves add punch and pizzazz, the keyboards, harpsichord and strings mark the baroque classical distinctive sound of the Left Banke, and the vocal harmonies of Mike, Tom and George hearken back to a time where vocals were considered as much an instrument as any other in a band. In other words, the Left Banke live in 2012 sound better than their records of the ’60’s – recreating the original sound faithfully, at the same time making it bright and fresh, vibrant and top rate. The voice of Mike Fornatale (a remarkable singer, who also plays a mean tambourine and guitar) could easily be mistaken for original singer Steve Martin Caro, if you did not know that Mike just joined the band when they reformed last year. Mike, Tom and George take center stage and blend together harmonies that are a pure joy to listen to. Tom Finn, who plays a beautiful Gibson acoustic guitar, acts as the bandleader, introducing the songs and the band, from time to time conducting the small orchestra. Original drummer George Cameron, now on vocals and occasional cowbell and tambourine, with his cowboy hat and moves, adds personality and character. And the brilliant Mike Fornatale demonstrates his incredible musical ability, channeling the voice and graceful flair of a younger man, embracing and weaving together the magic that captivated the hearts of so many music fans for so many years.

    There is talk of new Left Banke album in the making. It would be a true delight if that happened. And if you should be so lucky to have the Left Banke play your town, you should not miss this stellar musical act – one of musical bliss.

    And no, I am not affiliated with The Left Banke in any way. I’m just a fan who loves music.